This article was originally published in Summer 1996 and has recently been converted into HTML text format in 2022; please excuse any grammatical errors.
The contemporary women’s movement has been a profound agent for change in the social, political, economic, and cultural life of the United States. Women have demanded reforms to increase their legal and economic power, advocating a revolutionary transformation in their status. This advocacy has occurred within a setting of economic change that has pushed and pulled women into the workforce, altering lifestyles, power relationships, and social attitudes.
Such change sometimes appears to be superficial. The women’s movement has not, after all, resulted in dramatic increases in the number of women holding political office. The discrepancy in salaries and wages between women and men has not changed significantly. The glass ceiling still blocks most women from promotion to top positions within the corporate world. And, with very few exceptions, women still have primary responsibility for housework and childrearing, despite the veneer of the more caring husband and father.
But it is a mistake to underestimate the changes the women’s movement has brought about. One of the best indicators of the importance of those changes is the attention they have attracted from the Right. Attacking the vision, policies, and programs of the women’s movement has been a central theme of the Right. That these themes have played so prominently in the Right’s organizing ipso facto indicates their importance. People feel strongly about the women’s movement, positively or negatively, and the Right has skillfully mined the negative feelings.
In fact, the Right has gone beyond tapping the backlash against the women’s movement. It has made an attack on feminists (labeled “women’s libbers”) the central theme of its organizing of women. Feminists are attacked as a threat to the family because they “promote” abortion, divorce, lesbianism, and, of course, the sexual revolution.
This stereotyping and scapegoating of feminists (or “feminazis,” to use Rush Limbaugh’s term) accomplishes three goals. First, it demonizes liberals, the political sector most identified with legislation for women’s rights. Second, it is a vehicle for promoting the Right’s vision of family values, serving as a major front in what Pat Buchanan has called the “culture war.” And third, it acts as a recruiting arm for the larger agenda of the Right. Organizing conservative women to oppose feminists creates a women’s auxiliary of the Right.
In this essay, I will look at how women are recruited to support the larger agenda of the Right through their work in the right-wing, anti-feminist women’s movement. The charismatic leaders of this important movement are often little-known and frequently taken for granted by the Right’s male leadership. These women leaders, however, do not protest. They seem content to serve as quiet, largely unheralded political helpers to the men they support.
The women’s lack of public acclaim, however, should not be mistaken for lack of importance to the Right’s success. The Right is intent on bringing about a revolution in this country. Such a drastic social redirection cannot occur unless at least a sizable sector of women support it. It is imperative that women be brought along, and equally important that those who object be “handled.” In order to roll back the gains of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, the feminists of the women’s movement (and their message) must be politically neutralized.
This is not easily done, since feminism has sensitized large numbers of women to the oppressive nature of sexist discrimination and patriarchal domination—both central to the Right’s agenda. The Right’s leadership recognizes feminist consciousness as a major threat. Neutralizing that threat is best done by women, who can don a mantle of legitimacy when speaking and organizing against feminism.
The anti-feminist women’s movement is also important for its concrete achievements, though these are difficult to measure accurately. Much of the evidence of the effectiveness of the movement’s political work is anecdotal and of necessity relies heavily on the organizations’ own self-reporting, in fundraising pitches and public relations materials. However, one reasonable indicator is the success of campaigns in which the organizations participated publicly. Since the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), there have been innumerable successful campaigns in which the two major mass based right-wing women’s organizations, Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America have played an active role, including the military build up of the 1980s, attacks on the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts, defeat of the Clinton healthcare reform plan, and at tacks on sex education in the schools, to name only a few
Profile of the Movement
Phyllis Schlafly is the name most often associated with the anti-feminist women’s movement. Schlafly is the founder of Eagle Forum, the oldest and best-known mass-based right-wing women’s organization. After founding Eagle Forum in 1967, Schlafly went on to found STOP ERA in 1972. She reigned as grande dame of the anti-feminist Right until 1977, the year designated by the United Nations as International Women’s Year, when Beverly LaHaye, a professional right-wing Christian organizer, launched her explicitly Christian women’s organization, Concerned Women for America (CWA). CWA is now larger and more influential than Eagle Forum, and LaHaye and Schlafly compete for dominance of the anti-feminist women’s movement.
STOP ERA, Eagle Forum, and CWA all flourished during the early years of the Reagan administration. As the right-wing of the Republican Party—the institutional base of the New Right—consolidated its power under Reagan, social issues were at the center of the agenda. In June 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment was officially defeated. STOP ERA had succeeded. It declared victory and closed. Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America continued to grow in numbers and influence as they played important roles in pressuring the administration to pass legislation rolling back the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s.
Two individual women, Connaught (Connie) Marshner of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation and Onalee McGraw of The Heritage Foundation, broke much of the analytical ground for the Reagan administration’s public policy on family values. Drawing heavily on the policy implications of Marshner’s and McGraw’s work, the administration and its Congressional supporters pushed anti-feminist and anti-gay legislative initiatives on many fronts. The most comprehensive piece of legislation proposed was The Family Protection Act. After playing their critically important role, both Marshner and McGraw dropped from public view.
Though the Reagan administration never delivered the broad changes demanded by the Right, it gave every encouragement and succor to the Right’s family values agenda, and it did succeed in defunding abortion for poor women.
As the country entered the 1990s, journalists more often identified the Right’s organizing around family values as a conservative Christian agenda, reflecting the Christian Right’s increasing power within the larger Right Wing. There were two reasons for this shift in the balance of power away from the secular New Right leadership and to ward conservative evangelical activists of the Christian Right.
First, the Christian Right proved to be more effective at organizing at the grassroots level. It had an advantage, of course, in that its potential recruits are already organized into churches, making it easier to speak to them about family values and the threat of liberalism.
Second, this sector of the Republican Party was the most aggressive in recruiting new activists to enter politics. The organizing done by Pat Robertson, through his organization, the Christian Coalition, took the early work of Jerry Falwell to new heights of political power and influence. As the Right’s infrastructure grew and diversified, and the Christian Right gained new prominence and influence, the right-wing women’s movement followed suit. CWA became larger and more well-known.
“Eventually, these women spawned an entirely new wing of the anti-feminist women’s movement, mounting a powerful attack on women’s studies and its underlying feminist principles.”
Another right-wing attack came from academic women, who began to publish books and articles questioning the principal tenets of the women’s movement. Eventually, these women spawned an entirely new wing of the anti-feminist women’s movement, mounting a powerful attack on women’s studies and its underlying feminist principles.
The handful of academic women who have made a career of attacking not just the work of feminist scholars but the practice of women’s studies itself have written books and articles that inevitably have become the subject of debate within women’s studies departments and courses. At the head of the pack is Camille Paglia, a self-confessed attention-grabber based at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Paglia is part professor and part performance artist, and has turned her loud, cranky critique of feminists as prudish misfits and victims into a media career. Paglia has been joined by other critics of women’s studies, most notably Christina Hoff Sommers, whose book Who Stole Feminism? was heavily supported and promoted by conservative foundations. (Flanders, Extra!, Sept./Oct., 1994) This support won Sommers a place at the table on countless television talk shows.
Sommers has been joined by other disaffected academic women, including Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge, two veterans of women’s studies who have jointly written an angry attack on their former affiliation titled Professing Feminism. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese promotes a similar critique of women’s studies in Feminism Is Not The Story of My Life. Alumni who oppose the acceptance of feminism and multiculturalism on the campuses of their alma maters have formed organizations with names such as Ivy Leaguers for Freedom and the National Alumni Forum. These organizations give voice and clout to conservative alumni who want to reverse the increase in racial and sexual diversity that has come to their (usually elite) campuses. In all cases, women’s studies is a major target of this organizing. (Dembner, Boston Globe, 6/24/95)
Conservative academic women are not comfortable with either the middle class grassroots warriors of Eagle Forum or the evangelical Christian ladies of Concerned Women for America. They need their own voice, and have generated a new organization to speak for them—the Women’s Freedom Network (WFN). Working hand-in-hand with WFN is the Independent Women’s Forum, designed to influence media coverage of the progress of women toward equality. Calling themselves “equality feminists,” these women abhor all discussion of women as victims, refusing to accept that women as a class are oppressed. They believe in competing for status and success without regard to gender considerations and are viciously disdainful of women who consider gender a factor in their personal or career advancement. (Flanders, Extra!, March/April, 1996, p. 6)
Ideologically, the academic sector of right-wing women is located between classical liberalism and libertarianism. Classical liberalism, as distinct from New Deal liberalism, believes first and foremost in individual freedom. Like libertarianism, it is opposed to “big government” and supports the economic and political freedom of the individual above all else. Sometimes called “laissez-faire conservatives,” these women are less extreme on social issues, but vehemently opposed to feminist solutions—such as affirmative action, comparable pay, or mandatory daycare—for economic and political problems. (Klatch: 1987)
There is surprisingly little cross fertilization within or among the sectors of the anti-feminist women’s movement. Each sector talks to itself, the media, and the sector of the Right to which it relates. For instance, academic women don’t relate well to Newt Gingrich and the crude right-wing politics of the New Right. Their ambitions lie within academia, though they do promote their message publicly through the media.
The more political organizations of the movement, represented by Eagle Forum and CWA, reflect the ideology and agenda of specific sectors of the Right, and relate to them on an ongoing basis. Eagle Forum acts as an arm of the Buchanan-Helms branch of the New Right, whose adherents are sometimes called paleo-conservatives. This wing is so far right that it is barely contained within the New Right. CWA, on the other hand, acts as an arm of the Christian Right.
In fifteen years of observation, I have never seen Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye together in the same room. I have never heard or seen them refer to each other. I have never seen the Women’s Freedom Network tell its members about either Eagle Forum or Concerned Women for America. In fact, in its recent publication, Neither Victim Nor Enemy, Rita Simmons, the organizational head and prime mover of WFN, misspelled Beverly LaHaye’s name.
Who Are These Women?
Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America are the Right’s answer to liberal mass-based women’s organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). They are an integral part of the right-wing political movement currently in ascendance in the U.S. As such, they are enjoying new levels of power and influence.
In the mid-1970s, I began to try to understand the anti-feminist women who organized against the ERA. Led by Phyllis Schlafly’s STOP ERA, these were often evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant Christians, as well as Conservative Catholics, whose religious beliefs led them to oppose equality for women. Their work against the ERA was motivated by alarm and fear that It would create a legal mechanism for the ongoing violation of God’s will. As they were told by Schlafly, the role of women as helpmates to their husbands was set by Biblical law—a message often reiterated by their pastors and ministers.
It is not difficult to understand why women would oppose social change that violates their religious beliefs. For those who make political decisions using a religious yardstick, there is a long history of voting for the candidate or referendum that matches their religious convictions, be they conservative or liberal. But beyond that, I was curious to know what made these anti-ERA women become activists, especially given that their conservative religious beliefs would not naturally encourage activities outside the home, especially in the public political sphere.
In studying STOP ERA, I discovered a formula that has worked for the Right to this day. A charismatic woman, known for her savvy and wisdom and accepted and loved as a natural leader, recruits women around close-to-home issues (such as the potential for the ERA to result in same-sex bathrooms or daughters drafted into military combat), then gives them an organizing model that does not require them to leave their homes, thus allowing them to stay in a safe and familiar place (meetings around the kitchen table is a favorite). Gradually some women begin to stand out and become trusted lieutenants, and they are identified and rewarded as such by the charismatic leader. As familiarity develops and momentum builds, the agenda of the organizing effort broadens to include the wider agenda of the Right. The members are thus formed into an arm of the Right.
Questions about these women have haunted me ever since the anti ERA campaign. Could they have been recruited by pro-ERA forces if their concerns had been addressed directly? Was it Schlafly’s organizing style that proved attractive, or was it her message itself? Why was it so easy for Schlafly to paint ERA supporters as the enemy? I did not see the ERA as a threat to them, but as a help to all women. Why did we see things so differently?
Phyllis Schlafly is a lawyer and intellectual whose politics were heavily influenced by her late husband, Fred Schlafly. Twenty years her senior, he was a prominent member of the Old Right, obsessed with Old Right themes—paranoid anti-communism, bitter opposition to New Deal reforms, and rage over the loss of the Panama Canal. (Felsenthal: 109) The Schlaflys’ politics mirrored those of the John Birch Society (JBS). Researchers have yet to settle just how closely affiliated with the notorious and discredited JBS Phyllis Schlafly was in the 1960s and 1970s.
STOP ERA was not Phyllis Schlafly’s first service to the right-wing of the Republican Party. She had earlier written a book during Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the Republican nomination in the 1964 presidential election. Titled A Choice Not An Echo, it promoted Goldwater as a genuine conservative who would overthrow once and for all the politics-as-usual pattern of the Democratic-controlled Congress. The book is often identified as the factor that allowed Goldwater to capture the nomination.
After Goldwater’s disastrous defeat, Schlafly founded Eagle Forum, and led the campaign to oppose International Women’s Year in 1977, which she painted as dominated by hateful women’s libbers who did not represent the majority of American women. In this battle, she began to knit together the three principal themes of anti-feminism: opposition to abortion, to the ERA, and to equality for women. During the 1970s, Schlafly developed—and delivered to the New Right leadership—“the political gold of misogyny.” (Melich: 47)
But Schlafly soon became trapped in the political realm of women’s issues, and later, children’s education. Despite her five books on defense and foreign policy, to this day she is seldom recognized for her expertise on defense issues. In the 1970s, Schlafly was nearly alone in defending and promoting General Daniel O. Graham in his far-out Star Wars program to defend the United States from intercontinental missiles. Graham’s scheme is still being funded, despite the end of the Cold War. Rumors that Schlafly wanted to be Secretary of Defense in the first Reagan administration were not even dignified with comment, though she undoubtedly knows more about defense than many men who have served in that job.
Nor was Schlafly ever properly rewarded by the Republicans for the service she performed in defeating the ERA. During the Reagan administrations, when she might have received such a reward, the only crumb thrown her way was a seat on the Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution. One explanation for this slight is that Schlafly had done her job too well. Once the Republicans gained power, Schlafly’s outspokenness became a political liability. A shrewd and invaluable strategist of the old right and the New Right, Schlafly has been used and taken for granted by the male leadership of her movement and her Party. In reviewing Phyllis Schlafly’s career during the 1980s, it becomes intriguing to ask how Schlafly failed to translate her success into real power, and how Beverly LaHaye succeeded in overtaking her.
The answer lies in part in the complex character of Phyllis Schlafly, but also in the somewhat old-fashioned nature of her right-wing politics. Schlafly has never been able to take two steps that are crucial to becoming truly influential in politics in the 1980s and ’90s. First, she has not aggressively pursued media exposure. Though Schlafly enjoys occasional media coverage by dint of her status as the mother of the right-wing women’s movement (and most recently as a spokesperson for Pat Buchanan), she has not done what other New Right leaders have done—create her own media outlet to circumvent the mainstream media. Her once-a-week radio feature is modest by the Right’s standards of media exposure. In fact, public relations and promotional material have never been her strong suit.
Schlafly’s newsletter, a remarkably plain and simple four-page, two-color affair titled The Phyllis Schlafly Report, has not changed its format in fifteen years. While Schlafly’s photo does appear in the masthead, and the text (consisting entirely of a long feature article) is still written by Schlafly, these promotions of herself as the leader and visionary of the organization are modest by right-wing standards. Not that Schlafly shrinks from leadership or fame, but her particular brand of charisma stems from her career as a lawyer and intellectual. Her patrician manner and dignified self-presentation are similar to the style of the exclusive Daughters of the American Revolution. As an example of her leadership style, Eagle Forum offers a 10-day cruise on the Crystal Harmony, “probably the most beautiful ship afloat, in April 1996, complete with seminars on board by Schlafly herself. The cost of the cabins per person ranges from $12,399 to $19,930.
The second step Schlafly has not taken toward greater personal power and political leverage is to grow beyond her roots in the Old Right. True to those roots, Schlafly has always been an isolationist, a ferocious anti-communist, a strong defense advocate, unyieldingly anti-abortion, and an opponent of free trade and big government. This particular mix of Old Right commitments (for which she gets strong support from her principal political sponsor, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina) has left her slightly askew from the ideological profile of the New Right. New Right ideological commitments tend to represent a slight revision of old right ideology. Anti-communism is common to both the New Right and the Old Right, but the New Right focuses much more explicitly on family values themes and on domestic economic policy. Its family values themes are built around opposition to abortion, divorce, sex education in the schools, and homosexuality; and advocacy for prayer in the schools, parental rights, and the preservation of gender roles. While Old Right ideologues supported each of these family values, they did not place them at the center of their political agenda.
New Right domestic policy themes include: reducing the budget deficit, abolishing government-imposed regulations, destroying unions, and reducing taxes. Old Right domestic themes were: internal subversion by communist sympathizers, support for free-market capitalism, and opposition to New Deal reform programs. Again, there is a great deal of overlap, but a subtle difference in emphasis. The policies of the Old Right tended to benefit wealthy Brahmin Republicans. Those of the New Right tend to benefit the smaller, newer corporate entrepreneurs, sometimes known as “venture capitalists,” as well as “old money” Republicans. Both ideologies threaten the interests of working and middle-class voters, but the New Right conceals this fact cleverly by highlighting the family values themes that enjoy widespread popularity with these same voters.
Schlafly has not been able to meld completely with the New Right. Though a brilliant political innovator, architect, and strategist, she has not been able to change her politics and her style with the times. For this reason, she has not been elevated as she might have been. However, Phyllis Schlafly might conceivably have the last laugh. Of all those currently competing for leadership of the Republican Party, Schlafly’s politics are closest to those of Pat Buchanan, another Old Rightist who has been unwilling to sign onto the New Right style. Schlafly and Buchanan share a commitment to political isolationism, to right-wing anti-corporate free-market populism, an ever-increasing defense budget, protectionist trade principles, and opposition to multiculturalism. Further, they are both vehemently anti-abortion (Schlafly, a Roman Catholic, is the national Chair man of the Republican National Coalition for Life) and adamantly opposed to “secular humanism.
As Buchanan’s political fortunes have risen, Schlafly has been quick to affiliate with him. Only two days after Buchanan’s victory in the 1996 New Hampshire primary, Phyllis Schlafly endorsed Buchanan at a news conference in Columbia, SC. (New York Times, 2/22/96, p.1) Should Buchanan’s brand of old right ideology take hold within the Republican Party, Buchanan may prove the ally that Schlafly needs to finally gain the power and recognition that she has not received from the New Right. More likely, her affiliation with Buchanan, like her close association with Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), will continue to leave her marginalized.
Concerned Women for America, the “other” mass-based right-wing women’s organization, is larger and more media-savvy than Eagle Forum. Its budget is larger and it is arguably more influential. Its leader, Beverly LaHaye, now challenges Phyllis Schlafly’s status as grande dame of the movement. Yet, she is little known to feminists, and even less known to the general public. CWA’s budget is at least eight times that of Eagle Forum. More than three times as many members attend the CWA annual conference as attend Eagle Forum’s annual conference. Eagle Forum claims a membership of 80,000 members, compared with CWA’s claim of between 600,000 and 700,000. Both claims are undoubtedly inflated, but they do accurately reflect the greater wealth and mobilizing power of CWA. It is sobering to compare these membership figures with the National Organization for Women’s estimated membership of 250,000.
Beverly LaHaye reached this pinnacle of women’s organizing by a combination of being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to maximize her political impact through electronic media and slick public relations. LaHaye is the wife of Dr. Tim LaHaye, a founder of the Moral Majority and a well-known leader within the Christian Right. The LaHayes for years conducted profit-making Family Life Seminars with Christian couples, where they honed their family values themes. They have long belonged to the network of Christian Right organizations that came into its own within the Republican Party during the 1990s. In fact, it could be argued that they represent the far edge of the Christian Right. Both have been members of the board of directors of the Coalition on Revival, an organization that promotes the idea that the U.S. be governed by Biblical law. (Clarkson, The Public Eye, March 1994, pp. 6-7)
Unlike Phyllis Schlafly, Beverly LaHaye is very much a product of the New Right. Her style is that of a preacher rather than an intellectual. She organizes her followers in prayer circles, usually made up of seven women who meet around the kitchen table.” The CWA slogan is “Prayer, Praise and Action.” Each of the triad is given equal importance, so recruits are encouraged not simply to act, with specific instructions such as “call your Congressman” or “speak to your librarian,” but to become emotionally and spiritually engaged as well.
Beverly LaHaye claims to have decided to organize conservative Christian women when she and her husband were watching the International Women’s Year Convention on television in 1977. Feeling that the events she saw did not represent her idea of womanhood, she had a revelation and declared that she must actively oppose it.
In 1963, LaHaye had experienced a religious conversion. She surrendered herself completely to God and became what she calls “a spirit-filled woman.” As she describes herself, before that conversion she was a “fearful, introverted person with a rather poor self image.” She has lectured on her transformation and developed her own analysis of the four types of human “temperament” and the ways that bringing the Holy Ghost into your life will strengthen each type of temperament. The LaHayes’ joint organization, Family Life Seminars, offers to analyze your temperament for $129.95 for any one willing to take a half hour test. (La.Haye, 1995, pp. 11-15)
When LaHaye launched CWA, she was a member of the Christian Right and the wife of an established Christian Right leader. So, quite naturally, LaHaye set out to organize Christian women, without regard for the way that focus excludes non-Christian women. Specifically, CWA’s religious style and language—that of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants—is not altered to speak to Jews and Catholics. However, Jewish and Catholic ideologues who hold compatible political views are welcomed as speakers at CWA conferences.
Her unapologetic appeal to Christian women has made recruiting easier for LaHaye than it has been for Schlafly. The women LaHaye recruits are already part of an existing Christian-based mass movement, and the family values message is deeply part of their daily religious experience. These women merely need to be educated about the threat to those values posed by liberals, then harvested for membership In the organization. LaHaye’s background as the co-convenor of Family Life Seminars gave her the training in ministry that was crucial for the task of founding a Christian Right women’s organization. Not surprisingly, LaHaye’s organizing style and tone is that of the church. CWA is an organization of the heart and soul, rather than the intellect.
The contrast with Schlafly’s style is evident in the CWA publication that parallels Eagle Forum’s The Phyllis Schlafly Report. CWA’s monthly Family Voice looks like a magazine in booklet size. It is multicolor, printed on slick paper, and filled with organizational news and photographs. It is also a hard-hitting right-wing propaganda tool, filled with political rhetoric, misinformation, and exaggeration. Perhaps its most important organizing feature is its visual focus on Beverly LaHaye, surrounded by the leadership of the New Right and Christian Right, all bolstering her credibility as a prominent and legitimate leader. As charismatic founder and minister to the organization (LaHaye is called President for Life), LaHaye’s presence is felt and seen throughout the magazine. Further, LaHaye has a half-hour daily radio show that is prominently promoted in the magazine. Sociologist Sara Diamond estimates that the radio show reaches an audience of 500,000. (Diamond, 1996, p. 14) All this shows an awareness and skill at public relations that are part of the explanation for CWA’s success.
A Gathering of Eagles
Each year in September both CWA and Eagle Forum hold their annual conventions in Washington, DC. In 1994, they held them on successive weekends, at the same hotel. One might imagine that the scheduling was intentional, to allow women to stay in town and attend both conventions, but there was virtually no overlap in attendance between the two and the similar scheduling was probably unintentional. Eagle Forum’s annual attendance hovers around 250. Many of the work shops and keynote addresses focus on issue areas identified as “women’s issues,” such as the schools, healthcare reform, violence on television, or the latest misdeeds of feminist. A surprising number, however, stray far afield of these issue areas, into conspiracism on a grander scale. One such theme, promoted heavily at recent Eagle Forum conferences, is the alleged international conspiracy behind the New World Order.
In the early 1990s, a sector of the Right supported the idea that there is an international conspiracy to create a “New World Order.” George Bush (never trusted by the Right) adopted the phrase New World Order to describe the U.S. international dominance expected to characterize international relations after the fall of communism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Growing numbers of those within the Right now see this as code for the final arrival of One World Government—a long-standing right-wing concept. One World Government will prevail when the United States is finally robbed of all its sovereignty. At that time, rather than self-rule, we will have rule by the hated United Nations, which is seen as the center of the conspiracy. Aiding in this subversion is an array of co-conspirators, according to the specific conspiracy theory. They range from traitorous Trilateralist elites to international Jewish bankers and other unaware co-conspirators within the U.S. itself.
This theme is a favorite of Senator Jesse Helms, and is one of the extreme positions that has kept him somewhat marginalized, even within the New Right. Phyllis Schlafly has written about it in The Phyllis Schlafly Report. It is safe to say that this theme has replaced the anti-communist theme that for many years was at the center of old right ideology.
In the scenario spun by right-wing conspiracy theorists before rapt 1995 Eagle Forum conventioneers, trade treaties such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were identified as furthering the cause of the One World Government conspiracy. Speakers argued that the vehicle is not only GATT itself, but the “hidden provisions” within the treaty, such as the provision for a World Trade Organization (WTO). This theory was heavily featured at both the 1994 and 1995 Eagle Forum annual conventions, though not all followers of the New Right agree with it. The prominence of this theme at Eagle Forum events places Schlafly’s organization well to the right of the mainstream of the Republican Party, which tends to support GATT, NAFTA, and the New World Order.
But Schlafly is careful to make the connections between the UN-sponsored New World Order and the every day concerns of her members. In February 1995, she wrote a fundraising letter to her members about the threat posed by The United Nations Treaty on the Rights of the Child. In this letter, she states: “This UN Treaty is designed to take children away from the protection of their parents, put children under the authority of UN ‘experts,’ give children the legal rights of adults, and set up government lawyers to sue parents to assert the child’s ‘rights.’”
Interestingly, Phyllis Schlafly herself does not publicly state the extreme positions taken by the speakers featured at her convention. She does, however, introduce each speaker, bestowing in no uncertain terms her seal of approval on what is about to be said.
The speakers themselves are usually men. At the 1994 Eagle Forum Convention, 12 of the 15 principal speakers were men. In some cases, they are New Right politicians who are keeping in touch with their base. In other cases, they are young men trying to break into the crowded ranks of the Right’s leadership. These younger speakers are still “inexpensive” because they are not yet so well known that they charge inflated speaking fees.
Eagle Forum conventions are serious, almost somber, affairs. They usually culminate on Saturday night with a hotel banquet, featuring a special guest speaker. In 1994, Phyllis Schlafly herself was the toast of the evening. On the occasion of her 70th birthday, an impressive roster of the Right’s leadership turned out to toast her, including Senator Jesse Helms, Senate Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. In the audience, her Eagles (the most tried and true members wearing badges of honor in the form of eagle pins) celebrated their commitment to her organization and its ideology.
Song and Praise at CWA
The annual convention of Concerned Women for America is predictably bigger, more media savvy, more stage-produced, and more explicitly Christian. The singing of Christian songs and hymns occurs throughout the convention, and on Sunday morning there is a “Concert of Praise and Prayer.” Here again, most of the principal speakers are men; 11 of the 15 speakers at CWA’s 1994 convention were men. In 1995 this number was artificially inflated (17 of 25) because every declared Republican candidate for President came to speak before the CWA audience, as well as House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ralph Reed, the controversial executive director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition.
Beverly LaHaye also bestowed her imprimatur on the theory that the New World Order conspiracy threatens our daily lives. At CWA’s 1995 conference, Dr. Stanley Monteith, an orthopedic surgeon who publishes a conspiracy-minded right-wing newsletter called HIV-Watch and runs a radio show called Radio Liberty, spun out a long standing right-wing theory that traces the international conspiracy’s roots to a 19th-century plan for a New World Order developed by British entrepreneur Sir Cecil Rhodes. In horrifying detail, Monteith described how the plan for international domination was then picked up by Andrew Carnegie, the American robber baron, and has culminated in the Council on Foreign Relations and the Presidency of Bill Clinton. Throughout his talk, Monteith referred to his research in “the secret files” as the source of his information.
At the 1995 CWA Saturday night banquet, the focus was on Beverly LaHaye, especially her recent trip to Beijing to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women. Ironically, LaHaye’s attendance at the hated conference seemed to confer status on her as an involved leader at the center of important political events. A film was shown of LaHaye’s trip, emphasizing her influential role at the conference, her sightseeing, and “fellowship” on the Great Wall of China. The film’s tone was remarkably bland, almost a travelogue. It was only in the spoken comments of a number of the CWA lieutenants who accompanied her on the trip that the rightist rhetoric became inflamed and the audience was encour aged to demonize the conference and its feminists and lesbians. U.S. government officials who attended were also condemned as supporters of the UN. Here, again, we see the charismatic leader herself remain free of the most extreme rhetoric, while setting the stage for the heated pronouncement of her chosen spokespersons.
While aggressively marketing her own and her husband’s books, LaHaye also used the conference to promote a long-distance telephone service called Lifeline. Described as “the first long-distance carrier that is built on biblical values and centered around the Lord Jesus Christ,” Lifeline donates part of the proceeds from its business to support CWA. Lifeline ls promoted as an alternative to AT&Ts long-distance service, which “has thrown its financial support behind numerous homosexual rights causes.”
The Right-Wing Anti-Feminist Worldview
There are certain obvious and visible rewards for being involved in a political movement, whatever its content. The annual conventions and regional conferences of the two mass based right-wing women’s organizations showcase those rewards. In right-wing as in progressive gatherings, the feeling of being with like-minded people working for the same goals, who see the world and its problems in the same correct way, provides a feeling of safety and acceptance. But because the Right—especially right-wing women—give deference and love to their leaders, it is exciting to be in the presence of the charismatic woman leader and the political notables that she can produce. This itself testifies that the movement is important and its participants are making a difference.
But such rewards do not explain the appeal of the movement’s ideology for many women who are not at these conventions. They do not explain what attracts women to oppose equality and to see themselves as subordinate to men by nature. Here, the explanation lies in the conservative religious beliefs of the rank-and-file members of Eagle Forum and CWA. Their social conservatism stems from their religious conservatism. It is a conservative reading of the Bible that defines their gender role. The Bible is not just a source of advice and guidance; for many conservative religious women it is an infallible mandate. To follow it is to follow the correct path.
The conservative Christian beliefs of Schlafly’s and LaHaye’s followers may be the principal reason for their hostility to women who try to achieve equality for women. Certainly, it goes a long way toward explaining why they so thoroughly hate feminists, whom they see as harbingers of Godless secular humanism. However, other factors also play a role.
In the late 1970s, Andrea Dworkin published an article in Ms. Magazine titled “The Promise of the Ultra-Right.” In this important piece, Dworkin argues that five fundamental forms of satisfaction are provided to women by rightist ideology: form, shelter, safety, rules, and love. (Reprinted in: Dworkin, 1983, pp. 13-36) The first “form” refers to an understanding of the world that is based on fixed, predetermined social, sexual, and biological roles. The chaos of contemporary society they see everywhere is explained by pointing to violations of that fixed order.
The other four forms of satisfaction assured by right-wing values—shelter, safety, rules, and love—follow from the first if a woman understands her natural gender role, she will marry, then will submit to her husband as his helpmate, follow the dictates of the church, and derive her greatest meaning from serving her family and making a good home for them. In return, her husband, the head of the family, will provide both shelter and love, and will protect her from violence. The rules for this exchange are clear. She must act as a proper wife and mother, being careful not to threaten the hegemony of the husband and father, nor look outside the home for satisfaction or excitement.
For conservative women with traditional values, the women’s movement threatens this structure. It removes the rules, and by doing so undermines the assurance of form, shelter, safety, and love. Feminists and other social reformers introduce and encourage chaos with their “unnatural” reordering of roles. Their policies are, therefore, seen as a threat to conservative women rather than a release from oppressive gender roles.
Feminist ideology promotes the goal of self-actualization for women, a process that often leads to women breaking out of established roles and violating traditional values in the process of finding a more fulfilling life. That is, the feminist women’s movement encourages women to take charge of their lives, explore their own potential, and free themselves from subordination to the whims of irresponsible or violent men. This provides something beyond the assurance of physical security. It envisions an unprecedented level of freedom and independence for women. This ideal is captured by the words “women’s liberation.”
But for women with conservative values and a traditional lifestyle, breaking out of traditional roles may feel less like freedom and more like foolishly high-risk behavior. They see that often liberation has its costs. A woman who steps outside her role is no longer in a position to hold her husband to his role. She may be subject to the chaos that follows from her “unnatural” behavior.
The danger of liberal reformist movements, such as the feminist women’s movement, is described by rightist economist George Gilder. Gilder is a major intellectual architect of the liberalism-leads-to-chaos school of social and economic analysis. In his most influential book, Wealth and Poverty (1981); Gilder fixes the blame for contemporary chaos on the breakdown of traditional gender roles. He describes young men as naturally violent and a threat to social order. Fortunately, marriage has a civilizing effect on their savage instincts. Marriage imposes order in two ways: by providing sexual gratification at any time, and by forcing men to go to work to support their wives and babies. But without the constraints imposed by traditional marriage (so maligned and denigrated by feminists) the destructive youthful energy of young men is loosed on society. The result is the chaos that conservatives see in contemporary society, and that stands in stark contrast to their romantic view of the 1950s.
This worldview helps to explain the heated anti-feminist sentiment of the members of Eagle Forum and CWA. Their rhetoric is more characteristic of the pent-up anger and resentment of hate literature than of simple disagreement over goals and tactics. For the mass-based right-wing women’s movement, opposition to feminism is a holy war, and demonization of feminists obviously touches a chord.
Further explanation for this vehemence lies in the right’s homophobia—the fear and loathing of homosexuality. For conservatives who read the Bible literally, homosexuality is a practice condemned by God. Evidence of rabid homophobia can be found in the frequent campaigns mounted by both Eagle Forum and CWA against “the gay agenda” and “militant lesbians.” When a feminist policy is under attack from either organization, it is often smeared as lesbian-motivated. Any such tarring implies that the feminist position in question is anti-family, anti-Christian, and anti-male.
Another source of right-wing women’s animus is their interpretation of feminism as elitist. Feminism be comes a matter of what “they” are doing to “us.” In this view, the source of women’s oppression is not men, but other women, specifically other women who are inferior morally, but who have influence and power to impose their own twisted, secular priorities. “They” control popular culture and have hoodwinked the unknowing public into supporting their selfish agenda. Their ally and financial underwriter is liberalism—which is seen as the handmaiden of socialism and communism.
Whipping up the latent resentments of conservative/traditional/Christian women against feminists and their agenda serves a strategic purpose in right-wing movement-building. Right-wing leaders like Schlafly and LaHaye appeal to women as women, connect with them around the worldview described above, then bring them along into the broader aspects of the right’s agenda. They educate them about how feminism is a threat to the family, about the “homosexual agenda,” and about the elites in Washington who want to rob “us” and “destroy this country.” They draw women in with messages of support for their common worldview, follow up with political recruitment into right-wing women’s work, then mobilize them in the service of building the larger movement.”
Encoded Messages on Race
For decades, the Right placed race at the center of its political ideology and promoted policies designed to maintain white hegemony and domination. White supremacism was justified by the supposed biological inferiority of Black people. But by the beginning of the 1980s Richard Viguerie, in a book titled The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead (1981), stated that racism was no longer a part of the Right’s agenda. This, in fact, was a major motivation for the title the movement gave itself, The New Right. As overt racism was muted in the Right’s rhetoric, the social issues were elevated to greater prominence. Publicly, “traditional values” and “family protection” took the place previously occupied by anti-Black recruiting themes.
It is hard to find explicitly racist statements by New Right leaders. The same can be said of the right-wing women’s movement. Without these statements to serve as “proof” of racism, journalists are usually unwilling to expose (or even discuss) the issue of racism within the movement. Many journalists ignore the fact that in order to understand the racism of the New Right, it is necessary to recognize that it is encoded. In order to see it, you need to look at the consequences of the movement’s ideology and agenda.
Particularly revealing is the ideological justification for stereotyping and vilifying many people of color. According to the New Right, including the anti-feminist women’s movement, the correct measure of morality is a person’s worthiness. To be worthy, you most likely are Christian (ideally, born again), have conservative social values, support freedom, oppose communism, and take responsibility for your own actions. Anyone can meet these requirements. If you adhere to this worldview, there is no ideological reason for you to be punished or excluded because of your race.
The same pattern applies to the right-wing women’s movement. Though few women of color attend the conventions or belong to Eagle Forum or CWA, those who do are welcomed. They are accepted as worthy because they oppose affirmative action, multiculturalism, and welfare. They are worthy because they believe in individualism, personal responsibility, limited government, and family values. They oppose liberalism, government programs for the needy, secular humanism, and sex education in the schools. In many cases, the policies promoted by Eagle Forum and CWA are opposed to the interests of women of color, but the label “worthy” is a powerful seal of morality, and does sometimes attract women of color whose values are traditional and conservative.
Those who fail to live up to the standards of worthiness are assumed to do so because they are weak or corrupt. They are branded as greedy, lazy, or violent and the Right blames them for social ills and advocates excluding them from society. There are many ways that a person can be classified as unworthy and be excluded. Violating one of the above requirements is one way. Those who are excluded for that reason often tend to be people of color—precisely because of the racism so prevalent in U.S. society. Accusing them of dependence, lack of conformity to strict Biblical mandates, and inability to earn money, the New Right scapegoats large portions of communities of color. By scapegoating the victims, the effects of poverty and racial discrimination are camouflaged and the hegemony of White, Christian values is rescued from liberal “softness.”
Another way to run afoul of the New Right is to identify with a subgroup of the dominant culture, thus setting yourself apart from the Eurocentric cultural mythology that historically has dominated our national self-image. For example, to identify primarily as African-American, Latina, or Chinese-American is to place yourself aside from the dominant culture. It leads, quite naturally, to the emphasis on multiculturalism so eloquently advocated by many people of color who find that to conform to the dominant culture is to deny a fundamental part of their own cultural existence. All these methods of exclusion, ostensibly racially-neutral, are at the heart of the New Right’s racism.
The Right adamantly maintains that racial discrimination is no longer a factor in American society and personal failures are simply personal failures. This denial of the continuing existence of racism in U.S. society is another aspect of the New Right’s racism. No speaker was more popular with CWA annual conventioneers in 1995 than Alan Keyes, an African-American radio host who passionately asserts that race is not a factor in contemporary society and who eloquently defends the values of White, Christian America.
White women in the right-wing women’s movement are not required to overcome their racism. In fact, they are rewarded for understanding that though racist stereotypes are not applicable across the board, they are valid when applied to those who are unworthy. So, the “welfare queen” or other stereotypes promoted to represent despised members of society, are not seen as racist stereotypes, but as accurate and honest depictions of unworthiness. Discriminating against those who fail to adhere to the values of the Christian Right is justified as upholding morality. Society’s blatant racial stratification is not questioned, therefore there is no mandate for racial inclusiveness, nor any concern that the organizations are nearly entirely white.
Of course, there is much debate within the Right over the exact nature of worthiness. Bitter feuds erupt every day over tenets of right-wing ideology and policy. But there is general agreement that the Anglo-European model of individualism, Christianity, and self-restraint is the blueprint for worthiness. Hard-working, church-going, responsible, upright, heterosexual people are eligible for worthiness. Further, Western civilization is seen as the source of the progress and advancement of the United States. Any concession to moral corruption, secularism, sexual deviance, lack of personal responsibility, or multiculturalism is a threat to society. The basis for this “new” encoded racism is cultural white supremacism. It lies at the heart of the a culture war,” and the anti-feminist women’s movement is enlisted for battle.
Metaphorically, the anti-feminist women’s movement is a slick, fast-talking recruiter, sent into women’s social spheres to win conservative-leaning women to the larger Right. By addressing complex areas of concern and distress for conservative women who hold traditional values (school curriculum, violence on television and in rock and rap music, child rearing practices, divorce, homosexuality) with simple, conservative solutions, it first draws them into the movement, then introduces them to the larger ideology and agenda of the Right. Its appeal is to women who are angered by and alienated from modern society’s economic, social and cultural liberalism. The movement offers an opportunity to unite with like-minded women to oppose reformed gender roles, to regain dominance and moral superiority within a smaller, more satisfying sphere, and to demonize political enemies (especially feminists), all in the cause of “defending America.”
Conservative women are open to an ideology that values the superior knowledge and insight of elevated leaders, and thus are willing to follow the dictates of the movement’s charismatic women leaders. As the leaders introduce them to the larger agenda of the Right, they become political footsoldiers for right-wing campaigns on issues such as welfare reform, privatized health care, immigration restrictions, and anti-gay initiatives. Any objections they might have as women to the Right’s agenda are neutralized. They become reliable supporters of an agenda that places women in a permanently inferior position “by nature.”
The right-wing women’s movement often appears marginal because it does not actively compete with male led organizations for dominance within the New Right. However, the movement is strong, effective, and successful. Its political strength lies in its role as a large body of motivated activists who can be turned to whatever cause is identified by the woman charismatic leader. As such, the movement has played a crucial role in nearly every right-wing campaign of the last twenty years.
Because the organizing style of the anti-feminist women’s movement is lean and efficient, requiring little de bate over decisions and delivering a high level of conformity to political marching orders, it is a formidable political adversary. It exists in large part to target feminists and other supporters of equal rights for women. We ignore or dismiss it at our own peril.